By Mitchell Boatman

GRANDVILLE – It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Despite a slow start to the game and the fourth quarter, the Muskegon Big Reds finished strong for a 55-46 win over Grand Rapids Christian on Wednesday in a Class A regional semifinal game at Grandville High School.

Muskegon led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, but GRC drew within three points with two minutes to play.

But the Big Reds finished with a timely 8-2 run to close out the game, with all eight points coming at the free-throw line.

“This team is mentally tough,” said Muskegon Coach Keith Guy. “They’re Big Red tough. It’s about winning and advancing. They deserve to be here.”

Muskegon’s Billie Roberts attacks the basket in the post. Photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon, now 20-3, will play the winner of Holland West Ottawa-Forest Hills Northern semifinal in Wednesday’s regional final at Grandville.

Muskegon put itself in a tough situation right away, falling behind 7-0 after the first three minutes of the contest.

Guy wasn’t thrilled with that kind of start, particularly playing at this level of the state tournament.

“We can’t keep playing with fire like this,” the coach said. “If we don’t have better starts it’s going to come back to bite us.”

After a time out, the Big Reds woke up in a big way. They ended the first quarter on a 14-3 run and led 14-10 at the first buzzer.

Muskegon then dominated the second quarter with a 14-7 advantage and led 28-17 at halftime.

“We switched up (defenses),” Guy said. “We started man then switched up to a few zones. I think that bothered them. It was a total team effort.”

Vern Nash provided a big boost for Muskegon in the third quarter. He scored eight of the team’s 13 points, including two three-pointers. He added another triple in the first minute of the fourth quarter, as well.

“Coach told me to be confident, he told me to shoot,” the sophomore said. “I feel like if we come out and play our game, come out and be aggressive and play how we play, we can beat anybody.”

Clinton Jefferson Jr. drives baseline for Muskegon. Photo/Tim Reilly

“Vern Nash played really, really well,” Guy said. “He shot the ball really well. He’s a special kid. He’s got a bright future for us. I’m glad he happens to be playing in a Big Red uniform.”

Muskegon held a 41-24 lead after three quarters, and seemed to be safely cruising toward the win.

But GRC came out strong in the fourth. The Eagles opened the quarter on a 20-6 run to draw within three points, 47-44, with 2:02 to play.

“I thought we started playing not to lose,” Guy said. “We stopped attacking. We got lazy and stagnant on both ends. We can’t handle ourselves that way. We’ll work on those things tomorrow and, hopefully, if we’re in that situation again we’ll be better.”

The Big Reds held tough and converted eight of their 10 free-throws in the final minutes to get the win.

Eonte Tornes led Muskegon with 15 points, including three triples. Willie Shanks added 13 points and six rebounds, Nash totaled 11 and Clinton Jefferson Jr. scored seven.